Organisers of the Olympic Games and Euro 2020 are increasingly bullish the two biggest sporting events of the year will go ahead, although the International Olympic Committee president, Thomas Bach, has conceded for the first time that fans might have to miss out on the Tokyo Games to ensure they are safe.
There have been growing concerns that both events were in peril because of the steep rise in Covid-19 cases and the slow rollout of vaccines. However, Bach dismissed suggestions the Olympics may have to be cancelled or moved and said the fact that sporting events had already taken place safely gave him growing confidence.
“We have at the moment the handball world championships with 32 teams from all over the world in a bubble of 3,000 people in Egypt,” he said. “More than 7,000 events have been organised by the international federations and out of 175,000 Covid tests only 0.18% were positive.
“The competitions could be run and organised and none of them developed into a hotspot. This is why we are so, so confident.”
However, when pressed on whether packed stadiums of spectators would cheer on the 10,500 athletes who are due to compete in Tokyo, Bach was more circumspect. “This I cannot tell you,” he said. “Because our priority is to ensure a safe Olympic Games and we will do whatever is needed to do that. Everybody would love to have full-capacity stadia and the roaring crowds. But if that is not possible we will respect our principles, safety is our first priority.”
Bach also reiterated that a wave system for athletes at the Tokyo Games was under discussion, with participants staying for five days before being flown out and replaced by those whose events come later.
He confirmed that while the IOC would not require athletes to have a coronavirus jab, the hope was that as many as possible would receive them in the second or third wave, after high-risk groups had been given vaccines. “We are not in favour of athletes or champions jumping the queue. In the first lines must be the high-risk group – the healthcare workers, and the people who keep our society alive.”
Bach said all 206 national Olympic committees – along with the sports federations, athletes representatives and Japanese organisers – stood behind the IOC in wanting the Games to go ahead from 23 July.
“If we thought we were being irresponsible and the Games could not be safe we would not go for it,” he said. “Our task is to organise the Games, not to cancel them. And our task is to make the Olympic dreams of athletes come true. This is why we are working day and night to organise a safe Olympic Games in Tokyo.”
A similarly upbeat tone was struck by the Uefa president, Aleksander Ceferin, who said he was optimistic the Covid-19 situation “would be very different” by the time football’s Euro 2020 is due to kick off on 11 June.
Ceferin left open the possibility that fans would be able to attend the tournament after a meeting of Uefa and representatives of the 12 host countries – including England, Scotland and Ireland – on Wednesday.
Uefa has extended the deadline until April for countries to come up with a plan A and a Plan B for fan numbers, with each host venue being asked to choose from four options – full stadiums, 50% full, 33% full or empty stadiums.
“I am optimistic that things are highly likely to be very different with regard to the virus as we move closer to the tournament,” said Ceferin, “and it is important that we give the host cities and governments as much time as we can to formulate an accurate picture of what will be possible come June and July.
Sign up to The Recap, our weekly email of editors’ picks.
“Fans are such a big part of what makes football special and that is true of the Euros as much as it is of any game. We must allow ourselves the maximum space to allow their return to the stadiums.
“Uefa is committed to holding Euro 2020 in the 12 cities originally planned. The Euros is the flagship competition for national team football in Europe and is a vital source of funding for grassroots and wider football development.”
Wembley is due to host the semi-finals and the final of the tournament, along with all three of England’s three group games and a last-16 match.